Seemingly faster than the team can play games, the Carolina Hurricanes are falling prey to injuries.
The Hurricanes announced yesterday that forward Jeff Skinner has a concussion. He will miss his second game tonight but remains day-to-day. The 20-year-old forward missed 16 games last season with a concussion.
Already down two defensemen in Tim Gleason (lower-body, day-to-day) and Joni Pitkanen (lower-body, day-to-day), the Hurricanes are now without another, as Jamie McBain is sidelined for one to two weeks with an upper-body injury. McBain missed practice on Wednesday and did not skate this morning.
Pitkanen, who will miss his third consecutive game, practiced with the team on Wednesday. Head coach Kirk Muller said the 29-year-old defenseman, who is currently on injured reserve, could get back in the lineup as early as the weekend. Gleason also remains on injured reserve with no timetable set for his return.
Tim Brent, who missed Monday’s game in Montreal and has not practiced with the team since, remains day-to-day with a lower-body concern.
To round out their defensive corps for tonight, the team has recalled Ryan Murphy from Kitchener (OHL) on an emergency basis. The 19-year-old defenseman will make his NHL debut tonight.
“They just told me to play my own game, to create some offense and play well defensively,” Murphy said. “It’s a win-win for me. I’m coming up here, and I have nothing to lose. I’m going to soak it all in, and get a couple games in hopefully.”
“He’s a dynamic player. He brings a different element. It’s a chance for him to come in and not only play, but play in a big game,” Muller said. “We just said, ‘Listen, if you’re going to play, you’ve got to play off your instincts and just do the things that excited our people when they drafted you.’ He’s offensive-minded, he’s got great vision of the game, he can move the puck and he likes to get involved.”
Murphy will be paired with an elder statesman, so to speak, on the Canes defense in Jay Harrison. Harrison and then-rookie Justin Faulk were defensive partners for a large part of last season.
“Hopefully it says something about me. I hope it’s just not all them. Maybe they’re so good they carry me along,” Harrison joked. “I think I play a game conducive to allow another player to come in and play with me. Positional play, I’ve felt, has always been a strong part of my game. Defense first. Guys that have a little bit more drama, so to speak, to their game, it kind of gives them a little bit more of a platform to go out there and be themselves. I’m a really vocal player, too, and that calms guys down out there.
“There’s no real recipe to it, but we’re going to try to keep it fun, keep it light and make sure he has a great time,” Harrison continued. “We’re not going to think about too much, either. We have a game to play, and he’s a capable hockey player.”
With Skinner out, Drayson Bowman has moved up to play with Jordan Staal and Patrick Dwyer. Bowman has logged just one assist in 14 games, and Muller hopes this kick starts his production.
“You’ve got to adapt, and it’s an opportunity for Bowman tonight,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’ve got guys playing well as far as producing, and some other guys who, bottom line, have to step up, contribute and help our hockey club win.”
Despite the wounded bunch, the Hurricanes remain atop the Southeast Division at 8-5-1 (17 points) and face divisional opponents in five of the next seven games. In a season in which each game is played within the conference, divisional games become even more vital.
“Of course, it’s one game at a time here, but you can’t help but look at the next two games. They’re divisional games,” Muller said. “You’ve got to gain points every night, and they’re all four-point games right now.”
“You always want to put yourself in a position where teams have to beat you to gain points on you,” Harrison said. “The best way to do that is win your divisional games.”
Beginning Saturday, after this recent stretch of just three games (including tonight) in 10 days, the Hurricanes will play nine games in 15 days, including two back-to-back sets.
“It’s going to be a real test for us. We’re a little depleted and have guys coming in,” Harrison said. “We’re going to need to do this by committee. It’s got to be a full-team effort every night.”